~ Wave-Particle Duality: Do you really understand what that means? ~

Wave-Particle Duality: Do you really understand what that means?

It was Dirac or Plank or both who said that if quantum mechanics (i.e. wave-particle duality & Copenhagen interpretation) doesn’t disturb you then you don’t understand it.

It is all the more ironic, in my view (though tragically so) that theologians who think that ‘wave-particle duality’ serves as a fundamental paradigm of the nature of reality and jump on board in supporting a one-sided interpretation that ultimately will be discarded given new insights. Minister, beware.

It is one thing when someone of Polkinghorne’s caliber shows an inclination towards the Copenhagen interpretation. But it is another thing altogether when those trained in metaphysics adopt it because it can be used to show validity to their doctrines by analogy.

“One must remember that the physicists understand why complementarity works the way it does for rather specific reasons in quantum theory, but this does not license the unthinking application of the idea to other disciplines.” [1]

Apparently many theologians did not heed his warning, but neither did other scientists, most notably some at CERN who welcomed a deputation from the Indian government who presented the foundation with a large statue of Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the dance of creation and destruction.

“In choosing the image of Shiva Nataraja, the Indian government acknowledged the profound significance of the metaphor of Shiva’ dance for the cosmic dance of subatomic particles, which is observed and analyzed by CERN’s physicists. The parallel between Shiva’s dance and the dance of subatomic particles was first discussed by Fritjof Capra in an article titled “The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics,” published in Main Currents in Modern Thought in 1972. Shiva’s cosmic dance then became a central metaphor in Capra’s …- The Tao of Physics….” [2]

“A special plaque next to the Shiva statue at CERN explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva’s cosmic dance with several quotations from The Tao of Physics. Here is the text of the plaque:

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power and grace of the Nataraja, once wrote of it “It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.” [3]

Polkinghorne specifically denied that such an association was credible. “It is not the case that the quantum world is totally dissolving in its character, in a way analogous to the Eastern idea of the play of maya.” [4]

Furthermore, Polkinghorne showed an uncommon objectivity when he pointed out a little known truth about the dominant status that the Copenhagen interpretation enjoys. It seems that “the claimed indeterminacies of quantum theory ore not absolutely required to be present but they are a matter of metaphysical choice.”

“The apparent uncertainties of quantum theory are simply due to the fact that not all the causal agencies at work are accessible to us. Covert causes of this unseen kind are called ‘hidden variables’. David Bohm was the first person to construct an empirically successful theory of this nature. Its experimental consequences are identical to those of conventional quantum mechanics. Bohm’s theory has both (objective) particles and also a wave that encodes information about the environment and which ‘guides’ the motions of the particles, without being itself directly observable. The existence of this alternative interpretation shows that the claimed indeterminacies of quantum theory are not absolutely required to be present but they are a matter of metaphysical choice. A deterministic, but partly hidden, account is perfectly possible. Most physicists, however, incline to Bohr rather than Bohm. Those who make this choice reflectively, rather than simply acquiescing in a consensus, do so because they feel that Bohm’s theory, though very instructive, is too contrived in its character to be fully persuasive. This choice is made on strictly non-emperical grounds, but that does not mean that it is not a rational scientific decision, since science involves more than mere empiricism.” [5]

Further, he states, “The near universal preference among physicists for Bohr over Bohm serves as a reminder of the importance of non-empirical criteria in scientific theory choice.” [6]

It should be pointed out that Polkinghorne’s statement should be qualified. While he is correct that Bohm was the first to construct an empirically successful theory, in fact the pilot wave theory was put forward by de Broglie presented this theory in 1927. 

“Dr. de Broglie presented his pilot wave theory at the 1927 Solvay Conference, after close collaboration with Schrödinger, who developed his wave equation for de Broglie’s theory. At the end of the presentation, Wolfgang Pauli pointed out that it was not compatible with a semi-classical technique Fermi had previously adopted in the case of inelastic scattering. Contrary to a popular legend, de Broglie actually gave the correct rebuttal that the particular technique could not be generalized for Pauli’s purpose, although the audience might have been lost in the technical details and de Broglie’s mild mannerism left the impression that Pauli’s objection was valid. He was eventually persuaded to abandon this theory nonetheless in 1932 due to both the Copenhagen school’s more successful P.R. efforts and his own inability to understand quantum decoherence. Also in 1932, John von Neumann published a paper, claiming to prove that all hidden-variable theories are impossible. This sealed the fate of de Broglie’s theory for the next two decades. In truth, von Neumann’s proof is based on invalid assumptions, such as quantum physics can be made local, and it does not really disprove the pilot-wave theory. [7]

I hope that community of Christian Theologians who are seeking to have constructive dialog with Science will earn the right to their opinions by availing themselves of a clear conception of what it is they think they believe on this topic. In so doing they will earn the respect of modern science and indeed the approval of a higher court of perfect knowledge of Theology and Science. 

1. Polkinghorne, ‘Science and Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) p. 35.

2. Capra, ‘Shva’ Cosmic Dance at CERN (http://www.fritjofcapra.net/shiva.html)

3. Ibid.

4. Polkinghorne, ‘Science and Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) p. 33.

5. Ibid., p. 30.

6. Ibid., p 33.

7. Wikipedia – de Broglie-Bohm Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie%E2%80%93Bohm_theory).